George Perkins Marsh
(15 Mar 1801 - 23 Jul 1882)
Address Delivered before the Agricultural Society of Rutland County
by George Perkins Marsh
delivered September 30, 1847
published at the request of the Society by the Rutland Herald, 1848
Although the Association, which I have the honor to address, is styled an Agricultural Society, its influence is not designed to be limited to the encouragement and improvement of the culture of the soil, but its objects are threefold, and embrace as well the toils of the herdsman and the mechanic as the labors of the ploughman. I shall, therefore, not be expected to confine my remarks within a narrower range than your sphere of operations, and while I shall make no attempt to lay down minute practical rules for the conduct or economy of either of these great branches of productive industry, I shall endeavor briefly to illustrate the importance of them all, considered as means and instruments of civilization and social progress, and shall suggest, in a general way, some improvements, the promotion of which seems to me an object well worthy the zealous efforts of the agricultural associations of Vermont.
Before I proceed to the discussion of this my proper subject, it may not be amiss to notice certain particulars connected with the early history, physical condition, and fundamental legislation, of the American Continent, and especially of the United States, which have had an important bearing on the prosperity of the industrial arts, and the social condition of those who have made them their vocation.
America offers the first example of the struggle between civilized man and barbarous uncultivated nature. In all other primitive history, the hero of the scene is a savage, the theatre a wilderness, and the earth has been subdued in the same proportion, and by the same slow process, that man has been civilized. In North America, on the contrary, the full energies of advanced European civilization, stimulated by its artificial wants and guided by its accumulated intelligence, were brought to bear at once on a desert continent, and it has been but the work of a day to win empires from the wilderness, and to establish relations of government and commerce between points as distant as the rising and the setting sun. This marvellous change, which has converted unproductive wastes into fertile fields, and filled with light and life the dark and silent recesses of our aboriginal forests and mountains, has been accomplished through the instrumentality of those arts, whose triumphs you are this day met to celebrate, and your country is the field, where the stimulus of necessity has spurred them on to their most glorious achievements. But besides the new life and vigor infused into these arts, by the necessity of creating food and shelter and clothing for a swarming emigration and a rapidly multiplying progeny, the peculiar character of the soil and of the indigenous products of America has introduced most important modifications into the objects and processes of all of them, by offering to European industry new plants for cultivation, and new and more abundant materials for artificial elaboration. At the same time, American husbandry and mechanical art are totally different in their objects, character, and processes from what they would be, were they conversant only with the indigenous products of our native soil. To exemplify; America has given to the Eastern Hemisphere maize, tobacco, the potato, the batata, the pineapple, the turkey, and more lately the alpaca, not to mention innumerable flowering plants, as well as other vegetables of less economical importance, or the tribute which her peltry, her forests, her fisheries, and her mines of gems and the precious metals have paid to European cupidity; she has received in return wheat, rye, other cerealia, new varieties of the cotton plant, flax, hemp, rice, the sugarcane, coffee, our orchard fruits, kitchen and medicinal roots, pulse and herbs, the silkworm, the honeybee, the swine, the goat, the sheep, the horse and the ox. By these interchanges, the industry of both continents has been modified and assimilated, and it is a curious fact, that the greater proportion of properly agricultural American labor is devoted to the growth of vegetable products of transatlantic origin, while the workshops and the maritime commerce of Europe find one of their principal sources of employment in the conversion or the carriage of vegetable substances either indigenous to, or most advantageously grown in the soil of America. The colonization of a new continent under such remarkable circumstances could not fail to give a powerful impulse to the productive arts; and their increased economical, commercial, and financial importance has invested them with an interest in the eyes of statesmen, and a prominence as objects especially to be cherished, in every well regulated scheme of political economy, which they had never before attained, and the social position of those who are engaged in them has been elevated accordingly. Further, there are certain features of our institutions and our primary legislation, which have contributed not a little to raise and improve the condition of those who pursue the industrial arts, and especially of those devoted to agricultural occupations. The most important of these is the rejection of feudal tenures to lands, and the creation of pure allodial estates—a title scarcely known to the common law, and which makes every man the absolute irresponsible owner of his own land, subject neither to services, wardships, rents, tithes, reliefs, forfeiture, nor any manner of burden or restraint upon alienation by sale, inheritance or devise, or upon the cultivation of his soil for such purposes, or by such course of husbandry, as he may deem expedient. Another of these new features is the abolition of the law of primogeniture, and the equal distribution of all the estate of intestates, whether real or personal, between the representatives in equal degree, without distinction of age or sex. The effect of this system, together with the low price of lands, has been to make almost every person, who lives to years of maturity, an absolute proprietor of the soil, or in other words one of the landed nobility of the republic, for the notion of hereditary nobility in Europe was founded on the right of inheriting real estate, they who owned the soil of a particular country being considered as its rightful lords and governors, because, by concert among themselves, they could lawfully exclude all others from the right of possession, or ever of commorancy, upon any portion of its territory. Our laws do not indeed restrict political franchises to those alone, who are seized of real estate, but as a majority of those who are of the legal age for the exercise of those franchises are landholders, the proprietors of the soil are in fact here, as in most civilized governments, the real rulers of the land. The mechanic arts too, have been relieved from the burden of long apprenticeships, and other legal obstacles to their free exercise, and every species of productive industry is among us as free and unrestricted as the winds of heaven. The result of all this has been, that the arts of production as well as of conversion, in our time, and especially in our land, have proved a source of thrift to those who pursue them, of physical and financial strength to the commonwealth, and of general benefit to society, in a degree of which history gives no previous example, and they need only a wise, liberal and stable policy on the part of our government, to be a most important agent, in elevating us to as high a pitch of power and prosperity, as has as yet been attained by any nation under heaven.
I will now proceed to compare and illustrate in brief detail the relative value and importance of the three great divisions of productive labour, as means and instruments of civilization and social progress, first however glancing at the characteristic economic distinction between savage and civilized life.
In purely savage life, the wants of man are supplied by the destruction of the fruit, or plant, or animal, which clothes or feeds the human beast of prey, and while stripping the textile filaments from their vegetable stalk, or flaying and devouring the game which has fallen into his snare, he takes no thought for the reproduction of that which he improvidently consumes, but trusts implicitly to the bounty of spontaneous nature to supply the demands which the appetites and needs of her own children have created. Civilization begins with arrangements for securing the continued and regular supply of mans two great physical wants, food and clothing, by natural reproduction aided and promoted by artificial contrivances; and the degree of perfection to which these arrangements are carried, if it does not constitute the essence, at least furnishes a safe and convenient measure of the pitch of civilization, which a given people has attained. The arts of the savage are the arts of destruction; he desolates the region he inhabits, his life is a warfare of extermination, a series of hostilities against nature or his fellow man, and his labors are confined to the fabrication of weapons for slaying or repelling other tribes that intrude upon his hunting grounds, or of engines for ensnaring or destroying the wild animals on which he feeds. Civilization, on the contrary, is at once the mother and the fruit of peace. Social man repays to the earth all that he reaps from her bosom, and her fruitfulness increases with the numbers of civilized beings who draw their nutriment and clothing from the stores of her abundant harvests. The fowls of the air, too, and the beasts of the field, find in the husbandman a cherishing friend. The forest depths remote from the haunts of men yield sustenance to but a few of the tribes of animated nature. They are traversed only by swift-footed beasts, or strong winged birds of prey, and the humbler quadrupeds and gentler birds follow the migrations of the colonists, and gather upon the borders of civilization, where the abundance and variety of vegetable life affords them food, and the fear of man secures them protection against the ravages of the more rapacious brutes. Savage man then is the universal foe, both of his own kind and of all inferior organized existences, and incarnation of the evil principle of productive nature; civilization transforms him into a beneficent, a fructifying, and a protective influence, and makes him the monarch not the tyrant of the organic creation.
The objects on which industrial art is exercised in its first dawnings vary according to climate and the natural productions. In most countries of the old world, the germ of civilization with its attendant arts, is to be found in the pastoral life; in America, on the contrary, where nature with some doubtful and insignificant exceptions, denied to man the use of beasts of draught and burden, it began with agriculture, which in the Eastern Hemisphere constituted the second step of social advancement, while in some few favored insular climes, where the spontaneous productions of the soil and the sea suffice for human nourishment, the mechanic arts, which elsewhere form the last and crowning stage of material progress, have indicated the first movement of transition from savage to civilized existence. The enterprise of modern travellers has pushed discovery to the very verge of terrestrial creation, and colonization has followed so closely upon the heels of the voyager, that the arts of Europe have pervaded almost the whole habitable globe, and there are now extant but scanty remains of strictly savage life. The few tribes that have imbibed no tincture of civilization chiefly inhabit regions too frigid or too sterile for cultivation, and which deny both food and shelter to the domestic animals of Europe, while the pastoral races exist only as classes, in countries depending mainly on other branches of industry, or are confined to barren wastes like the sands of Arabia, the bleak mountains of Lapland, or the scarcely less desert steppes of Eastern Europe and Asia. Pastoral life admits of but a low state of civilization. The shepherd or herdsman is of necessity migratory in his habits, and must follow his flock wherever pasturage or water are most abundant; his occupancy of the soil, though temporary, must be exclusive; supplied by his herds with food and clothing and tent-cloth; he is unconscious of dependence upon his fellow man, and his social relations can be neither numerous nor close; he can recognize no superior but the chief of his sept, or rather his family, and all government must be simply patriarchal influence. The industrial processes belonging to the pastoral condition are few and simple, admitting of little variety, and affording narrow room for improvement. The habits of nomad tribes, therefore, lack the great element of civilization, progress; and the Bedouin of the Desert is unchanged since the days of Autar or of Job.
In civilized countries, as I have already intimated, pastoral life exists only in conjunction with agriculture, and these two branches of husbandry are in a great degree dependant upon each other. The improvement in the mechanic arts have not enabled the farmer to dispense with beasts of draught or burden. The steam plough is still but a dream, and the utility of even the mowing machine has not yet been established by successful experiment. The locomotive engine has not thus far been adapted to common roads, and notwithstanding the brilliant anticipations of some projectors, the day has not yet dawned, when every producer shall be whirled to market by the steam of his own teakettle. Nor has the increased production of vegetable aliment and tissues in any degree lessened the demand for animal food, or superseded the necessity of employing the skin and fur and wool of animals for clothing. On the other hand, the growing and gathering of the winter supply of food for the numerous flock and herds, which are required for our nourishment and clothing, constitutes a larger proportion of the labors of the agriculturist, and thus neither of these fields of rural husbandry can be much enlarged without a corresponding extension of the other. Pastoral life and the tillage of the earth are therefore no longer distinct and independent occupations, but are properly branches of the same calling, and though with some violence to etymology, popularly are, and conveniently may be, both comprehended under the general term agriculture.
Pure pastoral life, as I have said, advances man to but an humble stage of civilization, but when it is merged in agriculture, and the regular tillage of the soil commences, he is brought under the dominion of new influences, and the whole economy of domestic and social life is completely revolutionized.—Proper and permanent social institutions now begin to germinate, because combined effort for supplying the physical wants of man becomes necessary, and it is upon the necessity of such effort, that human society, considered as an artificial system, is founded. Men now begin to realize what, as wandering shepherds, they had before dimly suspected, that man has a right to the use, not the abuse, of the products of nature; that consumption should everywhere compensate, by increased production; and that it is a false economy to encroach upon a capital, the interest of which is sufficient for our lawful uses.
Among the various causes, by which the transition from the pastoral to the agricultural state may be occasioned or facilitated, an obvious one is the discovered, that by cultivation a smaller extent of ground may be made to furnish nourishment for the shepherd and his flocks, whose increasing numbers threaten to exhaust the supply spontaneously produced within his habitual range. Cultivation at once begun, the nomad condition is soon at an end, for the growing of a crop, including the preparation of the ground and the securing of the harvest, consumes the greater part of a year, and if perennial plants are reared, or the ground is first to be cleared of a forest growth, and fenced against the ravages of wild or domestic animals, many seasons must be passed upon the same spot. Hence arises the necessity of fixed habitations and store houses, and of laws which shall recognize and protect private exclusive right to determinate portions of the common earth, and sanction and regulate the right of inheritance, and the power of alienation and devise, in short the whole frame work of civil society. The recognition of private rights to real estate is a necessary condition precedent to the establishment of fixed habitations, without which there can be no permanent improvement of the soil, no considerable accumulation of personal property or the comforts of life, none of the sacred influences of home, no attachment to localities, no national feeling, no durable records, no history; it lies at the basis of all civil institutions; it is essential to the very idea of a nation, as distinguished from a nomadic tribe or sept; and those speculators, who propose the abrogation of such rights, are aiming a blow, not at the arbitrary institutions of an age or an epoch, but at fundamental principles on which society itself is grounded.
What then are the present condition and future prospects of the profession of Agriculture; how far it is to be regarded as a liberal art, and what part is it destined to play hereafter in the organization of the social fabric? The primary and immediate object of agriculture is the cultivation of vegetables, and in its largest sense it embraces the care of the forest and the propagation of timber-trees, the rearing of fruits, of the roots and herbs and seeds of our gardens, and of our medicinal plants, as well as the growing of our ordinary farm crops. It may be stated as a general rule, subject to no clearly ascertained exceptions, that animated creatures are incapable of deriving any nutriment directly from mineral or unorganized matter. It is the great office of vegetable life to convert the ultimate elements of inorganic matter into secondary forms, sometimes called proximate or immediate principles, which either immediately, or as constituents or more complicated combinations (as roots, barks, leaves, fruits and seeds,) supply food, shelter, and clothing to man and the lower animals. In many instances again this process is repeated, the brute or insect being the agent of a second elaboration, and converting, by organic chemistry, vegetables unnutritious to higher creatures into animal fibre or other tissue capable of yielding them aliment, or subserving their other uses. And herein careful Nature has by no means left improvident man dependant upon the fruits of his own foresight and industry; for not only does he, reaping where he has not sown, derive supplies for his various wants from spontaneous vegetation, and from wild animals fed by that wild growth, but even in those uncounted ages of vital existence, which geologists tell us preceded his birthday, she was busy in preparing and furnishing the future home of her noblest offspring. The preadamite world was clothed with a luxuriant growth of vegetable life, which fed and sheltered a swarming host of beast and bird and fish and creeping thing. But these were all tribes, unsuited to human use, and among the remains of primeval life, which lie sepulchred in the earth’s crust, we find no plant or animal belonging to genera that yield food or clothing to man, no pleasant fruit, or nutritious seed or healthful root, no fowl or quadruped allied to our domestic animals, but rank ferns, unfruitful shrubs and barren evergreens, fishes of coarse and bony structure, huge, thick-skinned quadrupeds, and monstrous reptiles. And when, in the fullness of time appointed by the Creator, man was about to be summoned to assume dominion over the earth and all things upon it, the existing organic forms were swept away by the agency of some sudden catastrophe, or some unknown cause of gradual extinction, and succeeded by a more fruitful world of vegetable and animal life adapted to the convenience of him who was now called to reign over it. But though these extinct organizations were not, in their original forms, suited to human uses, they are yet, in their mineralized condition, of the highest value, and even of almost indispensable importance to man. The vast deposits of coal in Europe and America, without which the smelting of ores and the workings of metals could be practiced only on a very limited scale, are the remains of extinct forests; limestone formations are often almost entirely of animal origin, and even our common polishing powders are composed of the flinty shells or wing-cases of microscopic insects no longer extant.
Vegetable life, therefore, the object of proper agriculture, is the indispensable condition of at least the higher forms of animal existence, and the economical value of this art can hardly be overrated. But are its present condition and estimation answerable to its intrinsic importance? The result of agricultural labors depend upon causes so obscure, and difficult of appreciation, or, determined by meteoric and telluric influences apparently so completely beyond human foresight and control, or to express the same idea in a fewer words, nature here contributes so much and man so little, that the name of an art has been somewhat unwillingly accorded to the agricultural profession. But since modern analytical science has busied itself with economical investigations, agriculture has come to have its proper laws, and is no longer conducted by arbitrary rules, themselves founded on a blind and groping experience. Until chemical analysis had shown what were the constituent elements of vegetable forms, ascertained their proportions and modes of combination, and resolved soils into their primary ingredients, there was no apparent reason why a particular locality should be better suited to one vegetable growth than to another. The adaptation of a given crop to a given soil was simply an isolated fact, accidentally observed, and determined by no ascertained relation of cause and effect. But when the ingredients and their proportion, in wheat or any other grain, are known, we may at once infer what soils are best fitted for its production, as containing or supplying, in the truest measure, the elements which enter into that grain, and we are also taught at the same time by what means to bestow on particular soils the properties needed for the growth of particular vegetables. Thus agriculture acquires laws founded not on mere empiricism, but on established constant physical facts, and therefore becomes a branch of natural knowledge, instead of a mass of rules referable to no known general truth. The telluric influences to be regarded in agriculture are fast becoming entirely appreciable, and we shall doubtless soon know, with a close approximation to certainty, the relation between soils and crops, and the only merely empirical question remaining will be the economical inquiry (for the due solution of which, other and fluctuating elements are to be considered,) how far it is expedient to select crops adapted to particular localities, or by artificial means so to change the natural character of soils, as to fit them for the growth of given crops. So far then as telluric influences are concerned, it be may assumed, that the results of agricultural labors are in the main subject to calculation, and depend entirely upon the intelligence and industry of the husbandman.
But the equally important meteoric influences as yet elude our grasp. All the greater known causes on climate are constant, and therefore reasoning a priori we should be authorized to conclude, that the cycles of our seasons would be regular and invariable. The heavenly bodies whose movements occasion the alternation of spring and summer, and autumn and winter, revolve in almost unchanging orbits; the constituents of the atmosphere have been precisely determined and are everywhere and at all times substantially the same; here then are apparently sufficient elements of certainty, but the electrical, thermometrical and hygrometrical condition of the atmosphere, or in other words the distribution of electricity and light, heat and cold, moisture and drought, is controlled by causes which have hitherto baffled the researches of the acutest inquirers, and, in fact, so irregular, that the fickleness of wind and weather has passed into a proverb. In spite therefore of the ingenious speculations of Espy, which, however visionary, possess high interest, and by no means deserve the ridicule that sciolists and fools have heaped upon them, we have certainly as yet little cause to hope that climatic influences can ever be subject, in any important degree, to voluntary human modification or control. But though man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow, yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action. The draining of swamps and the clearing of forests perceptibly effect the evaporation from the earth, and of course the mean quantity of moisture suspended in the air. The same causes modify the electrical condition of the atmosphere and the power of the surface to reflect, absorb and radiate the rays of the sun, and consequently influence the distribution of light and heat, and the force and direction of the winds. Within narrow limits too, domestic fires and artificial structures create and diffuse increased warmth, to an extent that may affect vegetation. The mean temperature of London is a degree or two higher than that of the surrounding country, and Palais believed, that the climate of even so thinly a peopled country as Russia was sensibly modified by similar causes.—But though, in general, climatic influences are beyond our reach, yet their pernicious tendencies may sometimes be neutralized or overcome. Every one must have observed, that the tender plants in gardens surrounded by high walls or buildings are more secure from frost than those in the open fields. A slight difference in the elevation, a judicious selection of exposure, a protection against cold winds by groves or fences, the accumulation of heat by rocks and stones or artificial walls, or its absorption in consequence of the dark color of the soil, irrigation, and lastly shelter and the application of artificial heat, may enable the skillful cultivator to grow plants, which properly belong to a climate many degrees nearer the equator than his own. Thus the orange and the lemon ripen in the open air in certain favored localities in the South of England. British conservatories will supply you with the native fruits of the West Indies fresh from the parent stalk, and Russian luxury has taught the flowers of the tropics to bloom in perpetual summer on the very verge of the frozen zone. Even the grape, so emphatically the child of the sun, is said to grow in England in greater perfection than in Madeira or the Levant, and the pineapples of European hothouses surpass in weight and flavor the indigenous growth of the American Islands.
An interesting enquiry connected with this branch of our subject is that of the possibility of acclimating plants, or of so changing their habits, by a slow and gradual removal to a climate of lower temperature, that they will grow to perfection in a colder zone than nature seems to have designed them for. We do not perhaps know enough of the laws of vegetable life to be authorized a priori to determine this question, though eminent botanical physiologists, reasoning from acknowledged principles, have denied that any such change whatever can be effected. It is not very obvious why a change in this particular, which it would seem might be brought about without any appreciable transformation of organization, should be more impracticable than the apparently greater modifications, which we see cultivation every day produce in the habits and even structure of plants, and there are certainly some instances which, so far as those particular cases are concerned, seem to be completely successful experiments. So far as we are informed, no botanist has ever doubted or denied that all the numerous varieties of our common Indian corn are specifically one and the same plant; yet the seed which is grown within the tropics will not ripen in latitude forty-five. If you transport it even two degrees to the north, it is doubtful whether it will arrive at maturity; if you carry it four or five, it is certain that it will not. Yet by a very gradual process of successive slow removals from the South to the North, then there is no doubt that the maize of Carolina may be made to grow in Canada. The case of Indian corn is not an unique example of acclimation, though we are aware of no other instance equally striking and successful. The removal of a plant from a higher to a lower latitude is usually accompanied with an increase in size, and the annuals of the North sometimes become biennial or even perennial when transferred to a milder sky; but this latter change may be effected or reversed, at least in the bread stuff grains (spring and winter wheat, for example, being convertible into each other) without removal, and it appears to be in general true, that cultivated plants which grow through a wide range of latitude, undergo no modification from change of climate. The seed of wheat, which has been cultivated in Egypt ever since the reigns of the Pharaohs, or from the time of the conquest, on the table lands of Mexico, where it has but twelve hours of light and heat, will thrive as well in Canada, where the summer sun shines for sixteen hours, as if it has been brought over from Normandy by the fishermen of St. Malo. There are indeed varieties of the cerealia, or bread-stuff grains, as well as of almost all other vegetables that enter into the food of man, varying in their period of growth and time of ripening, but these often coexist in the same latitude, and seem to be independent of climate. In general the grains of Vermont and Virginia, of the shores of the Mediterranean and those of the Baltic, thrive interchangeably, and the occasional increased rapidity of growth, which sometimes occurs upon transfer from a lower to a higher latitude, is due rather to a change of conditions than of habits, to an increase of stimulus from long continued light and heat, rather than to a modified organization.
Connected with this inquiry is another, of even greater interest, which is, how far can vegetables, without change of climate, be accelerated in growth, improved in quality, or increased in productiveness of fruit, by artificial means? It has been supposed that all domesticated plants were originally wild, and that they have been changed and improved by cultivation, through successive ages, and under different conditions, but this seems to be a hasty assumption. That certain vegetables, especially those of recent introduction into husbandry, have been considerably ameliorated, is known with reasonable certainty. The potato, when first brought to England, is described by contemporary writers as resembling the artichoke in size and consistence, and as being scarcely superior in flavor to that insipid root. We know too, that the average yield of many plants has been greatly increased, and that by the careful selection of seeds of accidental varieties, their maturity has often been considerably hastened, but to infer from these and other like facts the broad proposition, that all cultivated plants are wild vegetable reclaimed, ennobled, and, as it were, civilized by human art, is an unwarrantable generalization. What botanist has proved, upon scientific principles, the identity of wheat, or rye, or even oats, with any known plant of spontaneous growth? What experimental physiologist has succeeded in transforming any of the wild gramineous vegetables into the likeness of the cerealia, or has shown that these latter, if left to themselves, will go on self reproductive, but degenerating at every remove, and finally relapsing into their supposed original condition of unfruitful grasses? Some botanists, indeed, identify the peach with the almond, and the apple with the medlar, and it is confidently stated, that the native habitat of the potato has been not long since discovered, and the rudimental germ and primitive type of our Indian corn quite lately detected, in the wilds of South America. But we are not yet in possession of the requisite data for determining this interesting question, though the known fact, that wheat which has lain three thousand years in the catacombs of Egypt, will germinate and produce seed precisely resembling both itself and the grain now commonly grown in the same locality, certainly tends to prove that the cerealia of the old world undergo no change from long continued cultivation. I have already noticed that fact, that our only indigenous cereal grain, Indian com, is an exception to the general rule, that these plants are unaffected by change of climate. Does this indicate an essential difference in character, or is it the result of its later reclamation, and consequently more incomplete adaptation to the uses of a migratory animal like man?
It is a characteristic distinction between domesticated and unreclaimed plants and animals, that the latter are much more constant in form and dimensions, and much less liable to what are called accidental varieties, than those whose original properties have been more or less modified by domestication. Unrestricted nature works with infinite variety of type, but in general in close conformity with her appointed models, and if the influences of cultivation are withdrawn for a few generations from a plant or an animal which has been transformed by domestication, it will resume its wild native uniformity of properties and shape. Wild plants of a given species, growing under similar circumstances, resemble each other so closely as hardly to be distinguishable, while the varieties of the same plant, when reclaimed are so numerous, and so aberrant both from each other and from the primitive type, that they seem to have nothing in common. The plumage of the wild turkey is uniformly black shot with bronze or gold, the domestic fowl struts in every variety of hue; the wild cattle of particular districts in South America, though we know them all to be descended from the variegated race and Old Spain are so exactly like each other, that the dealers can tell, simply by the shape of the horn, the region where they were bred. This tendency of domestication to multiply varieties, which may be easily rendered permanent, offers to man an inexhaustible field of improvement, in both vegetable and animal life, and the amelioration which the skill of English agriculturists has effected in this way are among the most remarkable triumphs of art over nature. How far this process can be carried is of course a question of experience, but there is every reason to suppose, that none of our cultivated vegetables have yet reached their highest point of attainable perfection, in regard either to quality or quantity of product. The increasing density of population, and the consequently enlarged demand for agricultural products in the old world, together with the spirit of rivalry and emulation in the new, will stimulate continued exertion in this honorable field of
labor, and we may hope that the peaceful triumphs of the husbandman will eclipse in popular renown as well as in true utility, the proudest trophies of the warrior.
But besides improved modes of cultivation, we may look for great advantages to agriculture from the introduction of new vegetables and animals into our husbandry. If we remember how Europe and America have mutually enriched each other with new forms of productive life, and consider what vast provinces teeming with endless variety of vital existences still remain but half explored upon our own continent, if we reflect how little we know concerning the natural productions of the boundless realms of central Asia, and of China, where one third part of the human family subsists upon the fruits of rural industry, and where the art of the husbandman and gardener is said to have been carried to a pitch unknown in Europe, we may well imagine that our fields and fruit-yards and gardens are destined to acquire new sources of vegetable luxuriance and wealth and beauty from regions yet untrodden by Christian feet. But we have good cause to hope, that additions may be made to our stock of cultivated vegetables from more accessible sources. Compelled as we have been in this new world to avail ourselves of certain and approved methods of husbandry, we have not yet had time or means to experiment upon the economical value of wild indigenous plants, but since savage ingenuity has contrived to render innocuous the most poisonous vegetables, and to extract the nourishing tapioca from the deadly cassava, it seems not improbable that civilized chemistry may discover the elements of nutriment in many plants not hitherto used for human food. The native grasses of our country, too promise to prove highly valuable in agriculture, and the wild rice and wappatoo of our northern swamps, which are largely consumed by the Indian tribes, may perhaps prove worthy of cultivation, and thus give value to lands, which, in our present system of husbandry, are wholly unproductive.
There is not perhaps room for so sanguine expectations, in regard to increasing the variety of our domestic animals. We are probably acquainted with all the quadrupeds hitherto domesticated by man, and of these, it is certain that few not already introduced in European and American husbandry can be profitably added to the numbers we already possess. The powerful elephant requires the warm temperature and abundant vegetable food of the tropics; the buffalo possesses no superiority over our common black cattle, and we have no localities suited to the curiously peculiar structure of the camel, though it is possible that animal might thrive on the sands of the South or the great prairies of the Southwest, and there is strong reason to suppose, that the alpaca may be naturalized and reared with profit in many parts of Europe, as well as the American Union. The origin of our domestic fowls and quadrupeds is involved in the same obscurity as that of our cereal grains. Some of them are not known to exist, or to have ever existed, in a wild state, and we are at liberty, even apart from the evidence of scripture, to suppose that newborn man found himself at his first awakening surrounded by the grain of our fields, and the sheep of our pastures. The variety of tame fowls, on the other hand, might in all probability be considerably increased, and the success which has attended the domestication of the turkey, gives encouragement for trying the same experiment with other gallinaceous birds. It is obvious, however, that the chief improvements in husbandry are to be expected from the continued application of natural science to the resolution of yet undetermined problems in vegetable physiology, and from the employment of new agents as stimulants of growth. Among these, are various mineral substances and chemical preparations and not least, the electric fluid, which is known to exercise a powerful influence upon vegetation, though under conditions too obscure to be yet well appreciated. In these researches, the man of science must precede the operative farmer, and theories must be digested in the closet, before they are reduced to practice in the field. But in the mean time, there is abundant room for improvement in the use of means already known and familiar. I may mention the better economy of manures, and particularly, the saving, for this purpose, of the various highly fertilizing substances which are produced in our common household operations; the introduction of improved agricultural implements; the drainage of the soil, which not only restores waste lands to agriculture, but is an important means of securing the farmer against the great enemy of his crops, the frosts of autumn and spring; the extirpation of thistles and other weeds, and the destruction of noxious insects; the boring of artesian wells for supplying our dry pastures; the use of hedges on some soils, and even of iron in other localities, instead of our common costly and perishable wooden fences, and especially the substitution of cheap mechanical power of water and of wind for manual labor.
It is little to the credit of our agriculturists, that the greatest progress in these and other modern improvements should have been made by persons not bred to agricultural pursuits, and it has often been said that mechanics, merchants and professional men make in the end the best farmers. If there is any truth in this opinion, it is probably because these persons, commencing their new calling at a period of life when judgment is mature, tied down by habit to no blind routine of antiquated practice, and ridden by no nightmare of hereditary prejudice in regard to particular modes of cultivation, are conscious of the necessity of observation and reflection, in an occupation, the successful pursuit of which requires so much of both, and feel themselves at liberty to select such processes as are commended by the results of actual experience, or accord with the known laws of vegetable physiology. Under such circumstances, a judicious man, encouraged by the stimulus of novelty, would be likely to study the subject with earnestness, and to profit by his own errors, as well as by the experience of others.
There are certain other improvements connected with agriculture, to which I desire to draw your special attention. One of these is the introduction of a better economy in the management of our forest lands. The increasing value of timber and fuel ought to teach us, that trees are no longer what they were in our fathers’ time, an incumbrance. We have undoubtedly already a larger proportion of cleared land in Vermont than would be required, with proper culture, for the support of a much greater population than we now possess, and every additional acre both lessens our means for thorough husbandry, by disproportionately extending its area, and deprives succeeding generations of what, though comparatively worthless to us, would be of great value to them. The functions of the forest, besides supplying timber and fuel, are very various. The conducting powers of trees render them highly useful in restoring the disturbed equilibrium of the electric fluid, they are of great value in sheltering and protecting more tender vegetables against the destructive effects of bleak or parching winds, and the annual deposit of the foliage of deciduous trees, and the decomposition of their decaying trunks, form an accumulation of vegetable mould, which gives the greatest fertility to the often originally barren soils on which they grow, and enriches lower grounds by the wash from rains and the melting of snows. The inconveniences resulting from a want of foresight in the economy of the forest are already severely felt in many parts of New England, and even in some of the older towns in Vermont. Steep hill sides and rocky ledges are well suited to the permanent growth of wood, but when in the rage for improvement they are improvidently stripped of this protection, the action of sun and wind and rain soon deprives them of their thin coating of vegetable mould, and this, when exhausted, cannot be restored by ordinary husbandry. They remain therefore barren and unsightly blots, producing neither grain nor grass, and yielding no crop but a harvest of noxious weeds, to infest with their scattered seeds the richer arable grounds below. But this is by no means the only evil resulting from the injudicious destruction of the woods. Forests serve as reservoirs and equalizers of humidity. In wet seasons, the decayed leaves and spongy soil of woodlands retain a large proportion of the falling rains, and give back the moisture in time of drought, by evaporation or through the medium of springs. They thus both check the sudden flow of water from the surface into the streams and low grounds, and prevent the droughts of summer from parching our pastures and drying up the rivulets which water them. On the other hand, where too large a proportion of the surface is bared of wood, the action of the summer sun and wind scorches the hills which are no longer shaded or sheltered by trees, the springs and rivulets that found their supply in the bibulous soil of the forest disappear, and the farmer is obliged to surrender his meadows to his cattle, which can no longer find food in his pastures, and sometime even to drive them miles for water. Again, the vernal and autumnal rains, and the melting snows of winter, no longer intercepted and absorbed by the leaves or the open soil of the woods, but falling everywhere upon a comparatively hard and even surface, flow swiftly over the smooth ground, washing away the vegetable mould as they seek their natural outlets, fill every ravine with a torrent, and convert every river into an ocean. The suddenness and violence of our freshets increases in proportion as the soil is cleared; bridges are washed away, meadows swept of their crops and fences, and covered with barren sand, or themselves abraded by the fury of the current, and there is reason to fear the valleys of many of our streams will soon be converted from smiling meadows into broad wastes of shingle and gravel and pebbles, deserts in summer, and seas in autumn and spring. The changes, which these causes have wrought in the physical geography of Vermont, within a single generation, are too striking to have escaped the attention of any observing person, and every middle-aged man who revisits his birthplace after a few years of absence, looks upon another landscape than that which formed the theatre of his youthful toils and pleasures. The signs of artificial improvement are mingled with the tokens of improvident waste, and the bald and barren hills, the dry beds of the smaller streams, the ravines furrowed out by the torrents of spring, and the diminished thread of interval that skirts the widened channel of the rivers, seem sad substitutes for the pleasant groves and brooks and broad meadows of his ancient paternal domain. If the present value of timber and land will not justify the artificial replanting of grounds injudiciously cleared, at least nature ought to be allowed to reclothe them with a spontaneous growth of wood, and in our future husbandry a more careful selection should be made of land for permanent improvement. It
has long been a practice in many parts of Europe, as well as in our older settlements, to cut the forests reserved for timber and fuel at stated intervals. It is quite time that this practice should be introduced among us. After the first felling of the original forest it is indeed a long time before its place is supplied, because the roots of old and fell grown trees seldom throw up shoots, but when the second growth is once established, it may be cut with great advantage, at period of about twenty-five years, and yields a material, in every respect but size, far superior to the wood of the primitive tree. In many European countries, the economy of the forest is regulated by law; but here, where public opinion determines, or rather in practice constitutes law, we can only appeal to an enlightened self-interest to introduce the reforms, check the abuses, and preserve us from an increase of the evils I have mentioned.
There is a branch of rural industry hitherto not much attended to among us, but to the social and economical importance of which we are beginning to be somewhat awake. I refer to the agreeable and profitable art of horticulture. The neglect of this art is probably to be ascribed to the opinion, that the products of the garden and the fruityard are to be regarded rather as condiments or garnishings than as nutritious food, as something calculated to tickle the palate, not to strengthen the system; as belonging in short to the department of ornament, not to that of utility. This is an unfortunate error. The tendency of our cold climate is to create an inordinate appetite for animal food, and we habitually consume much too large a proportion of that stimulating aliment. This, when we compare the relative cost of a given quantity of nutritive matter obtained from animals and vegetables, seems very indifferent economy, and considerations of health most clearly indicate the expediency of increasing the proportion of our fruit and vegetable diet. We cannot in this latitude expect to rival the pomona of more favored climes, but in most situations, we may, with little labor or expense, rear such a variety of fruits as to supply our tables with a succession of delicious and healthful viands throughout the entire year. It is for us a happy circumstance, that most fruits attain their highest perfection near the northern limit of their growth, and though the fig and the peach cannot be naturalized among us, we may, to say nothing of the smaller fruits, successfully cultivate the finer varieties of the apple, the pear and even the grape.
Another mode of rural improvement may be fitly mentioned in connection with this last. I refer to the introduction of a better style of domestic architecture, which shall combine convenience, warmth, and reasonable embellishment. A well arranged and well proportioned building costs no more than a misshapen disjointed structure, and commodity and comfort may be had at as cheap a rate as inconvenience and confusion. Neither is a little expenditure in ornament thrown away. The paint which embellishes tends also to preserve, and the shade trees not only furnish a protection against the exhausting heats of summer, but they serve, if thickly planted, to break the fury of the blasts of winter, and in the end they furnish a better material for fuel or mechanical uses than the spontaneous forest growth. The habit of domestic order, comfort, and neatness will be found to have a very favorable influence in the manner in which the outdoor operations of husbandry are connected. A farmer, whose house is neatly and tastefully constructed and arranged, will never be a slovenly agriculturist. The order of his dwelling and his courtyard will extend to his stables, his barns, his graneries, and his fields. His beasts will be well lodged and cared for, his meadows free from stumps, and briars, and bushes, and the strength of his fences will secure him against the trespasses of his thriftness neighbor’s unruly cattle. Another consideration, which most strongly recommends attention to order and comfort and beauty in domestic and rural arrangements is that all these tend to foster a sentiment, of which the enterprising and adventurous Yankee has in general, far too little—I mean a feeling of attachment to his home, and by a natural association, to the institutions of his native New England. To make our homes in themselves desirable is the most effectual means of compensating for that rude climate which gives us three winters each year—two Southern, with a Siberian interrelated between—and of arming our children against the tempting attractions of the milder sky and less laborious life of the South, and the seductions of the boasted greatness and exaggerated fertility of the West. A son of Vermont who has enjoyed, beneath the paternal roof the blessings of a comfortable and well ordered home, and whose eye has been trained to appreciate the charms of rural beauty, which his own hands have helped perhaps to embellish, will find little to please in the slovenly husbandry, the rickety dwellings, and the wasteful economy of the Southern planter, little to admire in the tame monotony of a boundless prairie, and little to entice in the rude domestic arrangements, the coarse fare and the coarser manners of the Western squatter. A youth will not readily abandon the orchard he has dressed, the flowering shrubs which he has aided his sisters to rear, the fruit or shade tree planted on the day of his birth, and whose thrifty growth he has regarded with as much pride as his own increase of stature and who that has been taught to gaze with admiring eye on the unrivalled landscapes unfolded from our every hill, where lake, and island, and mountain and rock, and well-tilled field, and evergreen wood, and purling brook, and cheerful home of man are presented at due distance and in fairest proportion, would exchange such scenes as these, for the mirey sloughs, the puny groves, the slimy streams, which alone diversify the dead uniformity of Wisconsin and Illinois!
I have now shown, I hope, rather by suggestion than by argument, that the profession of agriculture in this age and land is an honorable, and in its true spirit, an elevated and an enlightened calling. I have adverted to its importance as an instrument of primary civilization, endeavored to indicate its present position as an art, and hinted at its future hopes and encouragements. It only remains for me to say a word on that other great branch of industry, the promotion of which is one of your leading objects, the arts of conversion, namely, or as they are more generally called, the mechanic arts.
Although these arts are practiced to some extent by the rudest savages, as I said at the outset, yet they do not in general attain to any considerable degree of perfection, until agriculture has made great advances, and as they are the last of the industrial arts to be fully developed, so are they the ultimate material means, by which the power, and wealth, and refinement of social man are carried to their highest pitch. The distinction between agriculture and proper mechanic art may be thus stated. The one avails itself of the organic forces of nature, for the purpose of simple reproduction and multiplication; the other employs the more powerful inorganic forces for the conversion of natural forms into artificial shapes. The mechanic derives the raw material directly from the hand of nature, but the form, character and properties of the final product are determined by human contrivance, sometime relying upon the plastic power of the hand, and at other times aided by natural forces, which man has learned to guide and control. Out of a mass of iron, the artisan can forge at his pleasure, a sword or a ploughshare. He can fashion from a block of wood a spinning wheel or a heathen idol. With a flask of mercury, he can silver a mirror, supply a hospital with a month’s stock of calomel, or extract from ore and dross an ingot of gold. He can coin that same gold into Republican eagles, or royal sovereigns, gild with it the dome of a royal mosque or a capitol, or draw it out into a wire and twist it into a lady’s necklace. He can convert a bale of cotton into muslin that shall rival the fineness of the spider’s web, canvas and cordage for a ship of the line, or an explosive substance, an ounce of which shall rend that ship into ten thousand fragments. He can hew from the dead marble a chimney piece for a palace or a cottage, the mausoleum of a Napoleon, a baptismal font, or the speaking statue of a Washington. The whole art of the agriculturist on the other hand is exhausted in the multiplication of certain natural products all substantially the original. Here the seed from the storehouse of the sower becomes as it were the raw material, or rather the model, and nature is the artificer, whom man compels to repeat and reproduce the works of her own mysterious cunning. The labors of the agriculturist are confined to the production and slight improvement of the comparatively few natural forms which he has learned to make subservient to his own uses; the toils and objects of the mechanic are as diversified as the wants and the inventive capacity of man.
But between these two great branches of productive industry, diverse as are their objects and their processes, there is neither interference nor competition; each depends upon and is in turn helpful to the other, and prosperity has crowned no country, which has adapted its legislation exclusively to the encouragement of either. As a general rule, it may be said, that mechanical operations absorb a much larger amount of agricultural products than mere agricultural consumers of the results of mechanical labor, and therefore the husbandman is directly interested in the prosperity of the mechanic, who is his best customer. A single operative in almost any branch of mechanical art works up a vastly greater amount of raw material than one agricultural laborer can grow, and produces a much larger quantity of the manufactured article than one laborer can consume. Three thousand spinners, weavers, dyers and finishers, will convert into dressed cloth all the wool grown in Vermont, and the cloth they will produce would furnish two full suits a year to every male inhabitant of the State. In the case of cottons, the manufacture of which is simple, and requires less manipulation, the disproportion between the quantity of raw material produced by one field laborer and consumed by one manufacturer is even greater; and a similar rule holds true, in general, of all the mechanic arts. The obvious reason of this disproportion between the results of labor is, that the mechanic performs the heaviest portion of his work by mechanical contrivances, which press into his service the inexhaustible inorganic forces of nature, and enable a single individual to wield more than the strength of a thousand, while the agriculturist accomplishes his task by mere bone and sinew, the unaided force of man and beast, and looks to the comparatively feeble and uncertain powers of organized nature to bring about the wished for result. There is another reason why the mechanic arts are of great and perpetually increasing value to the agriculturist. They are constantly discovering new uses, and thereby extending the demand for the raw material. Who can compute the increased value that the invention of paper has given to vegetable fibrous substance, or that of explosive properties to cotton? How many acres has the use of starch in manufacturing added to the culture of the potato, and how many field laborers find employment in growing madder and the teazle? The farmer is interested in the prosperity of the workshop, because it offers a market for his raw material and his surplus food, furnishes occupation in mechanical employments, and thereby reduces the number of rival laborers in agriculture, and cheaply supplies him with wares and implements, which must otherwise be, in the words of the homely proverb, “far fetched and dear bought.”
But besides these considerations, there are other reasons of a higher character, why the farmer, in common with all wise and good citizens, should esteem the mechanic arts in an eminent degree worthy of patronage and encouragement, especially in a country whose yet undeveloped natural resources are so boundless and diversified. It is by means of these arts alone, that those internal improvements can be effected, which bind our wide confederacy together, unite our inland seas with the ocean—the common boundary and highway of nations, bring every producer within reach of a market, and tend to equalize the value of lands in all parts of our wide domain. On these topics I am sure I speak to neither ignorant nor uninterested ears; and the efforts which the people of Vermont are now making to secure to themselves the advantages of the improvements to which I allude, are as creditable to their intelligence, as they are honorable to their public spirit. In the distribution of the bounty of the national government, the power of the larger states will never allow to our smaller commonwealths their just share, and whatever millions may be lavished on the favored West, we must be content with such improvements as the means accumulated by our own industry, aided by the enlightened liberality of our city capitalists, shall enable us to make. It is therefore a highly encouraging cause of hope and satisfaction that Vermont has at length put her own shoulder to the wheel, without waiting for Hercules, and we have every reason to expect that another year or two will place our territory on as favorable a ground as localities more blessed by nature, or more pampered by the partial bounty of the general government. What great advantage over you in fact has the farmer who lives on a turnpike road ten miles from Boston, if the grain which was removed from your storehouse at sunset is, while he sleeps, hurried to market on the wings of steam, and delivered at the city depot before he has time to transport thither the com he had measured and loaded up before he retired to rest? And why will not our water-power be as available as that of Massachusetts, when the cottons turned out by our factories today shall be afloat on the Atlantic tomorrow?
It is through the mechanic arts alone, that we can become truly independent of foreign nations, and establish an interchange between the producer, the manufacturer, and the consumer, which shall increase the wealth and lighten the burdens of each, by retaining among ourselves the net profits of labor, and thus avoiding the drains of the precious metals for supplies. The mechanic arts are worthy of patronage from their progressive character, and the promise they hold out to us of acquiring a complete mastery over inanimate nature. The progress of agriculture, within the last half century though great in itself and full of future promise, has been but a tardy movement, in comparison with the swift advancement of the mechanic arts. The steamboat, the locomotive, the power loom, and the power press, have all been brought into use since the beginning of the present century, and what a revolution have they wrought upon the face of the globe! How they have brought together and linked different states and countries! What millions have they clothed, and what millions enlightened! Suppose we were at once to be deprived of these great gifts of mechanic art, and suddenly cut off from the cheap and abundant supply of the means of knowledge, our necessary clothing doubled in cost, and our products reduced to half their value for want of speedy and economical means of transport to their market, our intelligence from the seat of government, from our distant friends, and from the old world, as well as our personal communication with other parts of our country, retarded and delayed for want of our accustomed means of transport and locomotion, what value should we not attach to these now almost unnoticed blessings, and what efforts and sacrifices should we not be ready to encounter to regain them? Yet we may well judge of the future from the past, and the progress of natural knowledge, upon which all mechanical art is founded, authorizes us to expect the remaining half of the nineteenth century will be as fertile in improvements as the portion of it which has already elapsed. The mechanic arts are eminently democratic in their tendency. They popularize knowledge, they cheapen and diffuse the comforts and elegancies as well as the necessaries of life, they demand and develop intelligence in those who pursue them, they are at once the most profitable customers of the agriculturist, and the most munificent patrons of the investigator of nature’s laws.
Thus, then, the several branches of productive industry, for the promotion of which you are associated, mutually cherish and depend upon each other. The herdsman, the ploughman and the mechanic are fellow laborers, not indeed competitors, but coworkers in a common cause, and every measure that tends to elevate any one of them at the expense of another, must in the end infallibly prove detrimental to the best interests of them all.